By Ryan Cornell
WINCHESTER -- As the annual post-turkey buying binge began hours earlier this year, shoppers and merchants are noticing a calmer, less-frenzied Black Friday.
At the Apple Blossom Mall, Larry Nelson, area director of mall marketing, said it was an "event-free evening" without any security issues.
The doors of the Winchester mall opened at 8 p.m. Thursday, compared to the midnight after Thanksgiving last year and 5 a.m. Friday two years ago.
"We had lines at all three of the mall entrances an hour before the mall opened," Nelson said. "It seems like no matter when we open, it's a frantic rush to get in."
Stores might have been packed with deal-seeking night owls at first, but Nelson said the mall emptied at about 2:30 a.m. until a second wave of shoppers flooded in at about 10 a.m. Noting that the deals at the mall are the same in the morning as the evening before, he advised future Black Friday shoppers to come in the dead of night.
Sgt. Justin Meredith with the Winchester Police Department said he didn't start his shift until about 6:30 a.m. Friday, but hasn't heard about any incidents typically associated with the spending holiday.
"Usually if it's something major, they pass it on, but they didn't," he said.
He said the shopping rush has resulted in two traffic accidents, including one leaving the mall at about 11:30 a.m. Friday.
"It's been a pretty decent Black Friday," he said. "This time seems relatively quiet compared to years past."
A number of shoppers were skipping the lines and "doorbuster" sales and checking off their Christmas lists in Downtown Winchester. Most of the merchants in Old Town were celebrating their own version of the holiday called Plaid Friday, which encourages people to shop at local, independently owned businesses.
Karen Arbore, who traveled from New York to spend the Thanksgiving weekend with her family, said they started shopping at about 11 a.m.
"We were at the stores last night and we actually wanted to boycott them, but we decided to take a shot and there were a lot of people there," she said. "We were amazed so we thought there might be other people out there in this area today, being that they might have all gone to the major stores last night. But there's not as many as I thought."
Her brother-in-law, David Lipton, visiting from southern California, said he was surprised by how empty the Loudoun Street Mall seemed.
"It's very calm," he said. "I don't know if it's the weather or what."
Lipton, a first-time Black Friday shopper, said he had made a stop at Incredible Flying Objects to buy some gifts. It was also his first time on the walking mall, which "absolutely awed" him.
"They're looking for the bargain basement instead of the quality relics and fine craftsmanship," he said about shoppers packing national retailers. "I see this street from front to back and it's all craftsmanship."
Incredible Flying Objects, which was the source of many purple shopping bags seen on Friday, offered free hot chocolate and donuts and a 10-percent discount on everything in the store from 6 to 10 a.m. Owner Drew Van Laeken said they didn't start to get busy until about 9 a.m.
"I guess people don't get up really early to come down here," he said. "They probably go to the big box stores really early and come down here and have lunch.
"So we're noticing during the say that it's been wonderful," he said. "Lots and lots of people coming down."
Two other customers at the store, John and Susan Hines, said they liked how peaceful it was.
"I'm not into Black Friday," Susan Hines said. "This is better because it's open and it's not crowded."
Her husband agreed.
"It's so much more relaxing," John Hines said. "You can just take your time."
The Thanksgiving weekend continues with Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org